OPEC rallies members against fossil fuels phase out at COP 28

Climate campaigners welcome draft agreement that includes options for the phase out of fossil fuels, but fear the text could be watered down.

Environmental activists display placards during a demonstration at the venue of the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 6, 2023. [Giuseppe CACACE / AFP]
Environmental activists display placards during a demonstration at the venue of the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 6, 2023 [Giuseppe Cacace/AFP]

The head of OPEC has urged members to reject any COP28 agreement that “targets” fossil fuels, highlighting deep divisions as the UN climate conference in Dubai enters its final week.

A new draft of the final agreement published on Friday includes a range of options, from agreeing to a “phase out of fossil fuels in line with best available science”, to phasing out “unabated fossil fuels”, to including no language on them at all.

The nearly 200 nations gathered in Dubai are now expected to focus on the issue of fossil fuels in the hope of reaching a consensus before the gathering’s scheduled end on December 12.

Conference host the UAE urged delegates to set aside their differences to achieve a deal.

“Let’s please get this job done,” COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber said ahead of the release of the draft.

“I need you to step up, and I need you to come out of your comfort zones,” he added.

At least 80 countries are demanding a COP28 agreement that calls for an eventual end to the use of fossil fuels, as scientists urge ambitious action to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

Such a position would be unprecedented, after three decades of UN climate summits that never addressed the future of fossil fuels head-on, even though they are the top source of planet-warming emissions.

‘A fierce battle’

Romain Ioualalen, global policy manager of the advocacy group Oil Change International, said that the latest text “shows we have never been closer to an agreement on a fossil fuel phaseout.”

But he voiced alarm over “large loopholes” under consideration for the fossil fuel industry, predicting “a fierce battle over the next few days”.

“The text includes options explicitly calling for the phasing out of fossil fuels in line with the best available science. That’s clearly a positive step,” said Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa. “The text also includes important recognition of fairness in regards to developing countries.”

“The bare bones of a historic agreement is there,” he said. “What we now need is for countries to rally behind the stronger of the options and strengthen them further.”

The most vocal holdout to calls to end fossil fuels is Saudi Arabia, which like summit host United Arab Emirates, is a major oil producer.

Climate campaigners have viewed al-Jaber’s presidency with suspicion, due to his position as head of the UAE national oil firm ADNOC.

But he has sought to reassure doubters by stating that a phase-down of fossil fuels, if not necessarily a complete end, is “inevitable” and the summit last week reached a quick agreement on another key area – a loss and damage fund, which will assist nations devastated by climate change.

OPEC rallies members

In a letter dated December 6 and seen by Reuters on Friday, OPEC Secretary-General Haitham al-Ghais urged OPEC members to reject any deal targeting fossil fuels rather than emissions.

“It seems that the undue and disproportionate pressure against fossil fuels may reach a tipping point with irreversible consequences, as the draft decision still contains options on fossil fuels phase out,” the letter, which referred to a draft of the text published on December 5, said.

“I avail of this opportunity to respectfully urge all esteemed OPEC Member Countries and Non-OPEC Countries participating in the CoC and their distinguished delegations in the COP 28 negotiations to proactively reject any text or formula that targets energy i.e. fossil fuels rather than emissions,” it added.

Three sources confirmed the letter’s authenticity, Reuters said. OPEC did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Credibility at stake

The UN climate agency’s chief made an impassioned plea, reminding countries that the science behind the world’s goal of holding warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial temperatures is clear.

“From the planet’s perspective, 1.5 is a tangible limit. It is not simply a choice,” said Simon Stiell, a Grenadian national who is executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“Two billion people will live in areas … beyond the human limit,” he said.

Ugandan climate justice activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Vanessa Nakate said that with a record 2,400 fossil fuel lobbyists at the talks, the whole process was at stake.

“If after all of this, leaders still don’t have the courage to agree upon a fossil fuel phase-out, then it will put in question the credibility not only of COP28 but of the entire COP process,” she said.

Meanwhile, eastern European countries are working to resolve an impasse over where to hold next year’s COP29 summit after Russia said it would block any EU member as COP president.

As of Friday, diplomats said Azerbaijan was likely to win in its bid to host the event. Bulgaria and Moldova have also offered to take on the rotating presidency.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies